‘The new normal will have a much more digital approach’

"This pandemic has allowed us all to review at our processes while taking a step back. In our careers as hoteliers, we have never had such a wonderful opportunity to introspect and innovate."

In an exclusive conversation with BW HOTELIER; Rajiv Kapoor, General Manager of Fairmont Jaipur, talks about the critical operational areas that the hotel has implemented. He also talks about the current state of hospitality and tourism industry. Claiming the current crisis as a wonderful opportunity, he states, "We look forward to changing the way run operations, by concentrating even more on experiences rather than large numbers."

With almost 8 weeks of planning to prepare for a gradual reopening in the new world order, tell us briefly about some of the critical operational areas that you must, as the head of your business, tackle?

Safety and hygiene are at the forefront of all our concerns. This applies to the well-being of our staff, guests, and partners. So, one important function is that of housekeeping. Our teams are reviewing each process and ensuring compliance with ‘ALLSafe’ by Accor. The other important operational area is Talent & Culture – to ensure that our team is taken care of, well-informed, and well-trained to be part of the ‘New Normal’ once our hotel re-opens. Another operational backbone is Finance and we have been working hard to ensure that while we do not generate fresh revenues, we plan well to allow quick recovery. Sales & revenue teams have been working nonstop to drive income from future business and contribute to the plan of recovery. 

How do you plan to implement social distancing and the new protection, cleanliness & hygiene protocols?

Along with all governmental rules and regulations, Accor has also empowered us with the ‘ALLSafe’ programme in partnership with AXA, to identify the areas which require additional attention and the steps we need to take to protect one and all. We are also taking this time to brainstorm ways in which we can optimize our spaces while maintaining social distancing as well. We are blessed to have a large property with multiple entry and exits which makes it easier for us to carve out areas for our guests to enjoy while maintaining adequate distancing. 

F&B, MICE and weddings have been huge revenue drivers. They stand impacted now, at least in the short immediate run. How do you plan to recoup this revenue gap to recover and over what horizon?

Fairmont Jaipur is a well-established wedding destination hotel and we are grateful to have been receiving queries even through this lockdown. While the size of each wedding will certainly be limited for the near future, it will not be wrong to predict that within 6-8 months, the wedding industry will bounce back to its original size and grandeur. Our aim is to keep our offerings flexible, while maintaining the highest standards of luxury, as guests have come to expect from us. With safety being a deciding factor for many guests, we do believe that the faith that guests have in our team helps maintain our positioning as the preferred option for weddings and MICE in India. 

With a revenue dent that will go beyond a few months, what are the few cost control measures you are undertaking?

The financial impact of COVID-19 on our industry and our hotel has been severe, as can be expected. With payroll being a major expense, we have taken measures to rationalize our costs in that sphere. We have also shut all operations from 20th March till date in an effort to minimize all operational costs; this has helped reducing our HLP costs drastically. 

Restaurants and fine dining have been a must have for any hotel of good standing, but now it seems in-room dining will be preferred by in house guests, while walk-in diners will take time coming back. What is your view?

While in-room dining will see a surge owing to the ‘social distancing’ mindset, I believe that it is the social element of restaurants that will encourage guests to indulge in the experience of fine dining as well. With all measures in place, we will be happy to host guests in our restaurants to allow them the experience which they would have missed out on for the last few months. While most of us have turned into master-chefs in our own kitchen, we would love to treat ourselves to an exciting meal and what better option to enjoy this than a luxury hotel. 

Do you think domestic tourism will be a game changer with a likelydrop in international inbound traffic for a while?

Domestic tourism is certainly one of the sectors we look forward to welcoming back to the palace as soon as circumstances permit. Our location and proximity to the Delhi-Jaipur Highway makes us a very popular weekend getaway from Delhi/NCR. It has also served as a gateway to Rajasthan for guests who fly into Jaipur. With the travel restrictions which have curbed the wishes of many an Indian guest for the last few months and deprived them of holidays of any kind, we do foresee a marked rise in travel inquiries a few weeks after the lockdown opens, when guests start to overcome their fears and get more comfortable with the idea of travelling with safety measures. 

As the head of your hotel, how do you keep the employee morale up during these tough times?

It has been a very trying time for each of us at a professional level; however, we have ensured that we interact with our teams at various levels. We have #ALLatHome videos which our teams create with their families and share internally to ensure that there is a spirit of hope, gratitude. and faith. Our teams are connected on WhatsApp, on Zoom calls, emails, and many other media. We organize regular quizzes and games for all, for both work related topics and some to just allow us all to enjoy together. Additionally, Accor Academy has associated with e-Cornell, LinkedIn and getAbstract to provide e-learning courses which have kept the teams motivated. 

What changes do you think this pandemic will bring to the Hospitality sector in terms of running a hotel?

This pandemic has allowed us all to review at our processes while taking a step back. In our careers as hoteliers, we have never had such a wonderful opportunity to introspect and innovate. We look forward to changing the way run operations, by concentrating even more on experiences rather than large numbers. As Fairmont Jaipur, we have always taken pride in personalizing moments for all our guests and the way forward shows us plenty of opportunities to enhance these even more. Going forward, our teams will have the chance to allow departmental barriers to fade away, creating stronger and more multi-talented teams. 

What is your message for the tourism and hospitality industry partners, as well as to your loyal clientele?

The most important message that needs to go out to our partners is that we need to come together and show guests how strong and reliable the travel and hospitality is, earn their trust and deliver experiences that surpass their expectations. With small steps towards re-opening, we will all learn together and then present more opportunities to create unforgettable moments for our guests soon. We have the opportunity to stay connected within the industry during this time via various webinars and other such initiatives and it has allowed us to come together and bond as a strong entity. 

What has been your hotel's contribution towards the fight against this pandemic?

The first step that Fairmont Jaipur took to stop the spread of COVID 19 was to stop all operations from the 20th of March. This kept our team, guests, and partners all safe right at the start of the spread in India. We understood that this could affect our revenues, but the risks were too high. Ever since then, we have constantly been providing materials such as shower caps, sanitizers, gloves, and mineral water to front-line workers such as the Sawai Man Singh Hospital, Police Stations and Traffic Police officers and others. We also coordinated with our local panchayat of Kukas to contribute daily groceries to villagers, who were amongst the most severely affected due to the remote location of the village. Most recently, our team has converted scrap linen into handmade masks, and these have been distributed across the city – to hospitals, police stations and more. We firmly believe in our mission to be at the heart of the community, even when we are not operational. 

What are the key lessons for the future to be learned from fighting this pandemic?

This whole experience has been helpful for each of us is many ways. It gave us the opportunity to bond as a team and as a fraternity to exchange thoughts and learn from each other. We have learnt to value our human connections, and this will certainly be an important takeaway. Our personal and professional lives have taken a more human turn by making more time for quality interactions with those who matter, and we should adapt our forthcoming schedules to ensure that this is not lost. Another important takeaway is the ease of digitalization; it helps us keep in touch, get work done, broadcast our views to a larger audience and so much more. The ‘new normal’ will have a much more digital approach and it will be essential to use technology increase efficiency in all our processes. 

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Fairmont Jaipur Rajiv Kapoor


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